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There are many reasons why inexperienced people might be poor hires in a startup. What circumstances make hiring relatively inexperienced juniors a good move? Note that these circumstances should somehow overrule the still standing negative points expressed, for instance, in the linked post.

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  • How big of a startup? You can be at a startup where you're employee #1, or employee #100 with 1/3 of those being in your field. In the first case, it's a bad idea. In the second case, it may not be- there's sufficient senior people to oversee them, juniors are much cheaper, and they may decide it's worth the time investment to train a junior. The idea of a "startup" is too vague to give you a full answer. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 6:25
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    Further to Gabe Sechan's doubts, don't you think the Question is so vast, it should lead not to a SE Answer but at least to a lengthy chapter, if not a whole 'How to…' text book? Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 13:04

11 Answers 11

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  • Cheap. People with experience are expensive, people without experience - less so. Now, sometimes the old adage of 'The cheap option costs more in the long run' can be true, but not always

  • There's no one really experienced. If you are the type of start-up that is doing something new/revolutionary - then it may be that there's no one who is genuinely experienced. Obviously there may be other people with a lot of transferable skills - but maybe not.

  • That's your only options. It might be that no one with experience wants to work for your company. If the choice is between a person with no experience and no person at all - sometimes it's the lesser of two evils.

  • sometimes you come across someone who is clearly going places - and so the relative lack of experience isn't as important a factor as capturing an apparently talented employee.

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    Related to #2: it might even be that a young person who just finished his PhD on the topic that your startup is doing is a better hire than someone more experienced, because his knowledge of the state of the art is more up-to-date.
    – BrtH
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 2:08
  • ^^ ... more up-to-date and they may still be more open to think out-of-the-box than a guy who has been doing stuff the same way for the last 15 years.
    – Fildor
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 6:57
  • Related to #3: If you (only) have the choice between a very smart junior and a not-so-smart person with experience, it has been my experience (hehe) that the smart one might be more productive than the experienced one after the first few weeks.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 8:45
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    Having recently been part of a startup with very experienced people (25, 30 years in their very specific field) where some juniors were also hired: seniority wasn't necessary a guarantee in all cases: some of our worst hires were seniors, famous in their fields, but who seriously under-delivered, all the while costing A LOT to the company. Some of our juniors, though, brought much more value for their cost. We just had to provide them with the proper guidance.
    – ereOn
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 14:15
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    Related to #1: cheap can also mean more headcount and hedging against a bad employee. once hired two juniors for the price of one senior engineer assuming that the probability they were both bad was low, and in all likelihood would individually perform at least >50% output vs a single senior counterpart.
    – nicholas
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 3:18
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@TheDemonLord gives some excellent reasons in his answer (cheap being the biggest factor). To add a couple more (slightly cynical) ones:

  • Easy to take advantage of. Juniors will generally not know their rights as well, not know what's normal in a workplace, and not be in a strong position to negotiate.
  • Young. Juniors are usually going to be younger than seniors, and ageism is still a factor in many companies, especially in the tech sector. Younger people are often less concerned about their work-life balance (as they're less likely to have kids), so it's easier to get them working crazy hours.
  • Better cultural fit. If you want to be a trendy hip new startup, hiring people who've spend the last decade working in big corporates then they may not fit in with the culture that you're trying to build.
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  • This answer might be cynical, but it is spot on with my experience. I got hired and under paid because I didn't know better. I worked basically 24/7 because I didn't know better. The only thing this answer is missing is "because juniors are cheaper." Between employers expecting us to train ourselves on our own dime and the grueling grind of most software shops, I genuinely wonder why we haven't formed a labor union yet and gone on strike. My comment might be a tad cynical, though... Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 14:23
  • @GregBurghardt As someone who hires lots of people, while juniors can be underpaid, they are more often overpaid. Not all of them produce outputs of any value at all, and some are a net negative. This risk gets factored into the salary offered.
    – Therac
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:01
  • @Therac-StandwithPalestine startups are usually willing to fire people very quickly, at least in the early stages. Startups that don't fire low performers quickly usually end up failing. So its not a problem for good startups in the beginning. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 21:14
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    @JonathanReez True, but you've still wasted the hiring effort and 2-4 weeks of productivity. This means that if a great junior produces 75% of a mid's output, a bad one -15% (wasted others' time), distribution is symmetrical, hire-fire cost is 2 months, and min time in grade is 6 months, a fair junior's salary comes to only 50% that of a mid.
    – Therac
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 21:34
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    @JonathanReez Generally speaking, startups end up failing so you can basically always truthfully say that “startups that do X end up failing”. That's also true for startups that do !X and not a very interesting observation.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 1:13
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I think one thing people are overlooking here is that it's rarely a good idea to have a homogenous group of people on any project - doesn't matter whether it's a startup or not.

Every project will have tasks that require more skill and experience and other tasks that do not, but are equally important. If you have a team of eight experienced, rockstar developers what happens to all those menial tasks that have to be done? Best case you're wasting money by giving senior developers such tasks, but much more likely this will cause friction and discontent in the team.

Much better to have a mixture of both experienced and less experienced people. The juniors learn from the seniors and the seniors can delegate less important tasks.

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  • Agreed. Basic tasks need basic skill levels - don't hire overqualified people for those
    – Dragonel
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 20:52
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One reason is the candidates themselves. Many people in their 30s and 40s have kids to support and mortgages to pay and can't necessarily afford to take the risk of joining an early-phase startup. People in their 50s and 60s may need to focus on financial goals like preparing for retirement (given that a large number of people are behind on their savings).

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  • And people in their 30s are often unwilling to work 80 hours weeks but 80 hours weeks are often the only way a startup can survive initially. Young, talented engineers can be 4x productive with an 80 hour work week thanks to the lack of context switching to other facets of their life. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 22:11
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Hiring juniors is part of getting out of "startup mode" and into being an established business that looks into continuity rather than immediate growth.

As a startup, the goal of the company is to demonstrate that this could be a profitable business, but once that is established, that is no longer sufficient: the goal of the company is to become a profitable business.

As part of that, you need to make the transition from personal to institutional knowledge -- anything that is important to daily operation is documented in a way that makes it replicable even without the original team, because you want that team to work on the next step after that.

Long-term, the founder team will move on, and your company will need to be able to promote people from within to replace them -- basically, a sustainable company anticipates that their workforce will be getting older, their priorities shift and they eventually retire, and defines a career progression that both matches employees' needs and has a defined intake process for the next generation.

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Another aspect that has gone unmentioned so far: not every startup is trying to change the world or solve a previously intractable issue. Some startups are just aiming to make money in a new area of a existing market segment. In this case, it is often cheaper to hire to the minimal skill set when "the industry-approved right way" is well-known or easily searchable. Furthermore, in these instances, the business model is already known to be viable so the "artistry" a senior provides has frequently already been folded into the business model.

For example, say some video game or other is launched by an unrelated company. Very frequently, particularly in the MMO space, support websites will pop up to aid the community ("where do I find the magic toaster for that one quest?", "what items are used to craft the Sword of Blasphemous Pastries?", etc) with a small startup behind it for "premium" features / taxes. These sorts of C.R.U.D. websites are extremely well-trodden ground and the risks for failure are low (e.g. a bug is an annoyance not a crashed car or crispy astronaut); why pay for an expensive senior when you might be able to get away with a pile of cheaper juniors? Obviously all of this is variable based on the specifics of the industry and given startup in consideration.

Ultimately, there are many startups who are plenty happy to stick to well-trodden technologies to buy into an unsaturated market and who absolutely will hire to this price point. The goal here is not to create a product that is good, it is to create a product that is saleable.

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I don't disagree with the other answers, but if you're in a highly technical field then you might consider

Relevant doctorate/research experience

The person may have no industrial experience whatsoever. But if they've spent the last 5 years researching the exact thing that you're trying to turn into a product, their knowledge of the theory may be more important than their ability to, say, write maintainable code and test harnesses.

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  • Arguably a person with such experience is not a junior anymore and should be hired at a higher position.
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 6:51
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I'm not clear that there are any decisive, evergreen reasons for having a completely skewed age profile amongst personnel.

There may be some contexts involving emerging industries where there simply aren't any older workers with much relevant experience to a particular role - or at least, far too few of them to go around in the economy.

In this case, there may be startups focussed on a very particular kind of activity, and it may make sense to hire younger workers disproportionately for certain roles, especially if the learning curve is considerable.

It may also make sense to avoid older workers who have experience which is valuable elsewhere in the economy, and who therefore attract a higher wage, but in fact have no relevant experience to the startup.

To colour the example, if an online shopping startup wanted a web developer in the 1990s, you wouldn't be hiring many 60-year-old mainframe programmers, because their wages are bid up by those who need their accumulated experience of mainframes, whereas they have little experience to give in respect of web technologies to justify the startup hiring them at the market wage. You may as well hire a young hobbyist, whose had enough idle time through school and college years to learn the new technology.

But startups are not innovations in every respect. There are still a lot of familiar functions, most of which require experienced professionals to supervise, and benefit from some input from those familiar with existing corporate culture and past learning.

Fanatically hiring younger workers in the belief that everything your company does is different than any other, is more likely to lead only to inefficiencies and dysfunctions, and for a startup, to stifle your growth into an established firm with reliable operations.

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Being cheap is more than just a lower salary. A knowledgeable engineer will usually ask for equity in a start-up in lieu of typical salary, so what they are saving is a LOT of money if the company is successful.

If you vest at $100 M, splitting it two-way is an extra 17 million per person than splitting it three-way.

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When I started out, some decades ago, I was hired by a very small (5-person) company with strong startup vibes, while I was still in school. I had taught myself programming years before that, and convinced them that I was able to do it (by showing off some hobby programs I had created). They employed me to create a very specialized event planner in the context of a very specialized job (somewhat related to the OSHA equivalent in my country).

Win - win - win. They got a cheap employee. I had a fantastically high salary and interesting work. The customers got some cool custom software that would have been financially uninteresting if done by a "professional" multi-person team. The company was kind of the middle-man carrying the risk (i.e., of me failing, getting sick etc.) and providing the b2b face to the customers, and obviously handling all the sales, marketing and so on and forth.

So there you have it. One reason to hire a junior in a startup.

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Because not every job at a startup needs to have lots of experience to get it done. There is plenty of work that needs to be done that doesn't require lots of experience rather time to get it done. For positions like hiring a "junior" instead of a "senior" to fill a position can not only save money but allow for more people to be hired to handle the workload.

In short not all positions at a startup require lots of experience to provide value to the startup

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